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Escape Velocity

Kissing The Face Of God: Lonker See Interviewed
Julian Marszalek , November 29th, 2017 14:38

Julian Marszalek runs head first into Polish psych sensations Lonker See - and lives to tell you the tale

Portrait by Paweł Jóźwiak

There are times when what the eye sees doesn’t quite match up with what the ears hear. A case in point: it’s a cold April night and your correspondent is at the Enea Spring Break in Poznan, Poland’s answer to SXSW. Turning a corner a little too quickly in the snug confines of Stare Kino – as revealed by the film posters adorning the walls, an old cinema converted into a bar – tQ doesn’t so much bump into someone as collide with a massive and immoveable chest. At 6’1”, this writer still has to strain to look up and finally make eye contact with a face that may as well be in the clouds.

Apologies are hastily and profusely made so it comes as some surprise to note that this man mountain takes the stage and wielding an enormous bass saxophone with the next band of the venue’s line-up, Lonker See. The first impressions fair chill the blood. Over on the left-hand side of the stage is a hoodie-wearing, bearded and tattooed guitarist. His face is barely visible but the ink on his hands and fingers is there for all to see, and if he wasn’t holding a guitar then it’d be easy to imagine him demanding with menaces your money out back.

Behind them sits a bald drummer with a forked goatee beard. Despite close inspection, there isn’t a copy of Anton Szandor LeVey’s The Satanic Bible lying around near by. Over the right-hand of the stage is a bassist, her presence almost unobtrusive and out of place until she opens her mouth to sing. This is Lonker See and their variant of mind-melting psychedelia is a thing of mesmeric wonder.

Hailing from Gdynia on the Baltic coast, this quartet holds more than one card in their favour. Guitarist Bartosz ‘Boro’ Bowoski elicits any number of haunting sounds from his guitar thanks to his dexterity with a slide and mastery of his pedals and it frequently feels as if he’s kissing the face of God. But just as you think that you’ve got a fix on them, saxophonist Tomasz Gadecki guides the band away from space blues and into the uncharted territories of cosmic jazz. The switch is palpable yet seamless yet the rhythm section of drummer Michał Gos and bassist Joanna ‘Asia’ Kucharska remains solid and unperturbed. And then Asia opens her mouth to sing and that beguiling voice ramps the kaleidoscopic effects up by several more notches…

…and it’s now several months later and Boro Borowski bursts into raucous laughter when tQ recounts the tale of literally running into the massive Gadecki.

“Lucky for you he’s a hippy,” laughs Boro as he puts down another couple of shots of vodka in front of us. We’re meeting at a bar in Katowice ahead of the OFF Festival’s kick off and Boro and Asia make for damn fine company.

Given that so many bands are characterised by a jaded and jaundiced view of what they do – many of them before they’ve even released a note of music - Boro Borowski is a refreshing change. In addition to his six-string duties with Lonker See, he’s also a DJ, occasional promoter, the band’s booking agent and head of the Music Is The Weapon label that’s overseen releases by Polish bands such as Black Mynah, 3moonboys and Perspecto, and his enthusiasm for what he does is infectious.

Lonker See themselves were formed from Boro and Asia’s previous project, 1926. “It was a typical ‘I want to destroy your head’ attitude with three guitars and very Sonic Youth with a way of sounding huge,” says Boro as he recalls the disintegration of the old band and the formation of the new one. “We’d recorded a few albums and played the OFF Festival but the band collapsed because all the members had different commitments outside of the band. Asia and I decided to start with the ambient stuff. We initially started with just the two of us but after about six months, it was like, ‘Fuck it, we need a drummer.’”

By a curious twist of fate, the pair connected with Michał Gos, a one-time drumming hero to the then-teenage Boro. “I was going to see him play when I was 16!” enthuses the guitarist. “He was playing psychedelic jazz which was very popular in our part of Poland. They were playing some great shit and I was taping everything because they were always improvising. He was a huge influence on me so I thought, he’s a cool guy; let’s call him.”

Adds Asia: “The great thing was that he came from a different genre from us and that was great for making things sounds a little different.” And from that early period of germination came Lonker See’s working methods and the completion of their line-up.

“We did maybe two or three rehearsal with him and said, ‘Fuck it! Let’s go to the studio!’ This is how we work. We’re pretty spontaneous. We don’t spend hours and hours practicing,” explains Boro. “And the night before we went into the studio, I called Tomek [Gadecki] and said, ‘Hey, come down to the studio with us’. He came down and I’d say, ‘This is in B minor; it’s a sad song’ and off we went.”

“The idea was to take two musicians from a jazz background and two musicians into ambient music and space rock and put them together,” elaborates Asia. “In the beginning, it wasn’t so good. But a few months later we supported Föllakzoid and the whole thing really clicked.”

But what of that band name. What the hell is all that about? Boro’s eyes twinkle with mischief as he breaks into a huge grin: “We smoked a few joints and were looking at map and there was lake in Germany called Lonker See so we said, ‘Yeah, let’s fucking do it!’ and we became Lonker See.”

For all the musical explorations into psychedelic territories on their debut full-length album, Split Image, Lonker See don’t necessarily boast the usual musical wigged-out influences. For them, the domestic underground noise rock scene on the 1990s – known as ‘yass’ – played a crucial role. “In the 90s there were whole bunch of great bands in our region that played improvised music. There was a noise rock band called Ewa Braun and they were fucking amazing,” says Boro. “If they’d been from Britain or the United States they would have been famous, for sure.

“There was another band called Scianka and they were kind of like The Stooges but with really complicated time signatures. They all should have been bigger but because this was the early 90s and before the internet, it was all very underground.”

Boro also credits the influence of older acquaintances: “I was lucky because I had an older sister who was already listening to cool stuff so I was wearing Sonic Youth t-shirts at the age of 12.

“I was once buying lunch, and this guy who was old enough to be my father saw my T-shirt and said, ‘you’re into Sonic Youth?’ and I said ‘sure’ so he took me to his record shop to listen to loads of music. I ended up skipping lessons so I could hang out in the shop. My mother got a bit worried when he started calling me at 10 o’clock in the evening to play me new music down the phone!”

But what of consciousness-expanding substances? Have they played a role in the creation of Lonker See’s music? “I don’t know if they’ve had that much of an influence. We’ve certainly not created anything under the influence,” says Asia. “But we do like to enjoy ourselves sometimes.”

“I enjoy all sorts of things but weed is good for composing,” admits Boro. “I like to have a smoke, play the guitar and see what happens. I’ll have a listen the next morning and some of it is good and some of it is not so good.” Boro then adds this cautionary tale: “But never during the gigs. Maybe a drink or smoke, but nothing more than that. I wouldn’t play a gig on acid but I’ve seen some bands do that. I saw some German band last year try to play on acid and after about a half hour, the drummer was like, ‘I’m done!’ and he left his bandmates tripping out on the stage.”

With our glasses replenished, talk moves to Lonker See’s record label, the Fela Kuti-inspired Music Is The Weapon.

“We started it ourselves so we could have complete creative control for ourselves and it started about five years ago,” explains Boro. “If I like something and I have the money then I’ll put it out. It started out for our own records and then people got in touch saying, ‘Well, I think you might be interested in this.’”

Talking of his criteria for signing bands, Boro elucidates: “We put out a whole variety stuff. We’ve released some really sick hip hop on vinyl, we’ve put out some ambient stuff but the most important thing for me is that regardless of genre, it has to be sick.”

You can almost taste the enthusiasm for not only the music Boro puts out on Music Is The Weapon but also the music that’s currently emanating from Poland’s fecund and creative music scene.

“This is a great moment for Polish music,” he declares. “There’s something really special going on here and there are lot of different styles. There’s a great metal scene here – and that’s now pretty much become traditional Polish music – we have great psychedelic bands, and there’s also great techno like Zamilska or Sienkiewicz. This is great, great music and it’s not something that we should be ashamed of. Whatever the genre, I can guarantee that you’ll find something good.”

It’s hard to disagree. Each subsequent visit to Poland by this writer has led to the discovery of increasingly fascinating music that genuinely feels as it’s been made in the 21st century. Asia is quick to point out the application of technology and its role in the creation of new musical forms.

“I like electronic music also,” she says. “I was raised on Boards Of Canada. “For me, this is very emotional music. There are plenty of good bands that do use electronics. Alameda 5 and [Stara Rzeka’s] Kuba Ziołek do this stuff really well.”

In addition to their musical influences, current affairs play a role in Lonker See’s output. It may well be rare for a psychedelic band to declare it, but Boro and Asia are keeping a watchful eye on political developments both home and abroad.

Speaking of the ruling nationalist Law And Order Party, Asia shakes her head grimly when she says: “I think that with Poland, the worse the political situation is, the better the culture. This goes back to the Romantics; the worse the shit that is going on, the more that artists feel that they have to respond.”

“Poland really should be a South American country because we’re great at making revolutions,” laughs Boro darkly. “But what’s going on here with the government is fucking ridiculous. They’re saying shit like, ‘The immigrants are going to kill us.' What immigrants? Look at how fucking white this country is.”

He shakes his head sadly: “We’re living in very strange times now.”

We finish our drinks and the mood lightens once more as Boro and Asia pause to consider what they’ve learned as a self-sufficient unit in control of its artistic output and how it gets out there in a music scene that deserves be heard beyond its own borders.

“If you want something done, do it yourself. The existence of our label or people like Instant Classic shows this,” he says. “There’s a unity here among those musicians and labels. There’s a really good network. If I’m playing a place like Katowice and my gear breaks down, I know that an amplifier will be found. We’re all helping each other.”

He pauses to consider his words.

“This is the start of something good,” he asserts.

He’s not wrong. Poland is indeed going through something of an exciting musical renaissance and if you want to see how the third eye is cleansed in this part of Europe, then you’d be hard pressed to find a better introduction to Lonker See. This is gloriously expansive music that’s as much a journey for those making it as it is for those experiencing it. It also makes for a refreshing change from the orthodoxy that’s coming to dominate certain quarters while emphatically proving that compelling contributions are being made from where you might least expect them. But then again, at its best, psychedelic music has always been about going deep and wide and that requires as much a move on the part of the listener as it does on the creator.

Lonker See have done their bit. Now you do yours. Tune in, turn on and don’t log out.

Lonker See’s new album, Lonker Sessions/Live At Pijana Czapla, is out now and available via Bandcamp